The ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 is in full swing now, and no matter how bored some of us have gotten with Cricket, we’re yet to be cured of the standard Indian male fever and one of us is still a Tendulkar fan. So we do end up watching the matches and watching England tie with India, lose to Ireland thanks to that Kevin O’Brien blitz and finally pull off a thrilling win against South Africa. This got the gamers in us thinking. How good would it be if Cricket games got to a level where they could recreate this kind of magic? It also got us thinking about something completely different – Cricket games have been around for ages now, but just how much have they changed?
So we took a trip down memory lane and tried to find out. Join us, would you?
The Early Years
You could say Cricket games shot into the spotlight in 1985, with Graham Gooch Test Cricket, which was released for the BBC Micro and Commodore 64, among others. However, its sequel – Graham Gooch World Class Cricket – is much more well-known. What? You say you haven’t heard of it? Does Allan Border Cricket ring a bell?
The game became a phenomenon thanks to its availability on DOS, and with Windows 95’s (somewhat problematic) DOS emulator, you could rest assured nearly every Indian PC owner at the time tried this game out. It featured the Test Teams and the Australian Sheffield Shield teams, along with the ability to create and edit rosters. The game used sprites that have been primitive for a while, though you can’t really blame the developers in that regard. Allan Border Cricket is also notable for being the game, following a rebranding that spawned a series of games named after and endorsed by a young West Indian who had just broken two Batting World Records at the time.
The Shift to 3D
EA Sports entered the Cricket arena in 1995 with Cricket 96, the sequel to Super International Cricket on Nintendo’s SNES, which was developed by Melbourne House. While the game didn’t bring much to the table, its sequel, Cricket 97 was a game that did. While the players themselves were still sprites, the environments were rendered in 3D, which was a huge development for Cricket Games at the time. The game also featured commentary from Richie Benaud and Ian Botham, along with Full Motion Videos featuring the same.
The voice of Cricket backed this game
Meanwhile, Codemasters were cooking up something big. After the retirements of Graham Gooch and Allan Border, they needed someone else to endorse their series of Cricket Games – and the one they picked was Brian Lara. A sequel to Allan Border Cricket followed in the form of Brian Lara Cricket 96, but as was the case with Cricket 96, it didn’t do much. However, Codemasters took their time, and in 1998 unleased the behemoth – Brian Lara Cricket 99 for the PC and PlayStation.
BLC 99, as its fondly known, featured a fully 3D graphics engine, animations created via motion capture and a pretty good AI. The game brought in immense value with its Test Season mode, which was a first for Cricket Games, and player performance tracking. The game boasted of fully licensed Test playing nations, six other Associates and commentary by BBC broadcaster Jonathan Agnew and Geoffrey Boycott.
Really, really smashing. You could pay money just to watch that.
EA Sports replied by taking the Cricket project off Melbourne House’s hands, and giving to it Creative Assembly who promptly released Cricket World Cup 99, which was quite honestly one of the worst games we’ve ever played.
The Modding Era
Codemasters inexplicably disappeared from the Cricket games scene following the huge success of Brian Lara Cricket 99, leaving EA Sports and its extremely poor cricket series with pole position in the market. Games came out from the stable every so often, and as expected, underwhelmed the majority of its buyers. This sparked off something that is still active today – various gamers on the Internet modifying game files. Cricket 2005 was heavily modded for Gameplay and Graphical improvements, something cricket gamers were craving for.
How modded is this?
Codemasters then released Brian Lara International Cricket 2005, which while being plagued by a few issues was still an excellent game. It featured a Classic Matches mode, much like BLC ’99, which took you back in time and asked you to recreate, or go against, certain key moments in Cricket’s history. This was very well received by fans, which made the decision to remove the feature in the underwhelming sequel Brian Lara International Cricket 2007 rather baffling. The game didn’t do very well, even in India where it was released under the name Yuvraj Singh International Cricket 2007.
Fared below expectations, unfortunately
EA Sports were still trucking along, with the release of Cricket 07. Again, the game was heavily modified by fans, which made it rather popular.
The Death of Cricket Games?
EA Sports stopped making Cricket games following Cricket 07, which put the proverbial ball in Codemaster’s court. They answered with Ashes Cricket 09, which generated quite a bit of pre-release hype, but like nearly every cricket game failed to capitalize. A few months after release, it was announced that the developer studio Transmission Games was shutting down, which created quite a furore among cricket gamers. With EA Sports sitting on their license and not making any Cricket games – much like they did with F1 – and Transmission’s closure led a lot of people to fear the prospect of Cricket games being dead.
However, a lot of the Transmission members simply moved on and created a new studio, named Trickstar Games. They promptly followed up Ashes Cricket 09 with International Cricket 2010, which featured a few improvements like the Action Cam but was hampered by the lack of a PC version (it was only released for the XBOX360 and PS3). It’ll be interesting to see where they go from here.
In the meantime, a certain studio named Mindstorm Interactive released a game called Cricket Revolution. It’s slowly picking up popularity, and the studio have gone on to release the official Cricket World Cup 2011 game, Cricket Power.
Probably the only Cricket Games to capture the essence of the sport and deliver consistently, Management games are extremely popular among a certain section of Cricket fans. What started with Australian Cricket Captain, a game developed by Empire Interactive, spawned a huge series which is now known as International Cricket Captain. In the games, you took control of county teams, developed your players, gave instructions out during the games and fought for a chance to become England manager. In the follow-ups, the ability to captain other International teams was added.
ICC's new game engine
Another game in the same vein was Michael Vaughan’s Cricket Manager. MVCM wasn’t limited to English teams, however, it allowed players to pick whichever team they wanted, and progress their careers accordingly. The games are now released by Rockingham software under the name Cricket Coach.
Where do we go from here?
Well it’s hard to say, but one thing for sure is that Cricket games will never be mentioned alongside other great sport franchises like PES or NBA 2k if core gameplay isn’t improved. When the best gameplay experience you get is thanks to guys on the internet and not professional developers, you know something’s gone terribly wrong. We believe that’s what Cricket game devs need to do now – ignore the other gimmicks and focus on creating as realistic a cricket experience as possible. We know it’s not easy because Cricket is a rather complicated sport to translate into a video game, but that’s the direction we should be heading in.
Another aspect to consider is motion controls. With the advent of XBOX Kinect and PlayStation Move, motion controlled gaming is becoming more prominent, and a sport like Cricket could definitely benefit from it. I mean come on, batting and bowling? They’re perfect for stuff like this!
And finally, what about mobile cricket games? With powerful smartphones becoming more and more common and popular, there is lots of potential there which can be tapped.
We might not be the biggest cricket fans, but we certainly would like to see some awesome Cricket games. We loved Brian Lara Cricket ’99, and if another game comes along that recreates the moments of magic that Cricket, like all sports, has, we’d definitely play it. As would a ridiculous number of other gamers.
So go for it, devs. We’re definitely cheering you on.
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